2014 Flavor Trends: Yogurt's Fruitful Union

Yogurt products rely on perennially popular fruit flavors and some more complex combinations for balance, appealing to both men and women as well as Hispanic customers.

By Deborah Cassell, Contributing Editor

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Flavorchem Yogurt FlavorWhether it’s blended, on-the-bottom or an accompaniment on the side, fruit flavors are the perfect complement to yogurt, even today’s thicker Greek-style selections. Top brands such as Yoplait, Chobani, Stonyfield Farm and Dannon all rely on consumers’ affinity for fruit as the ideal pairing for plain yogurt, be it full-bodied, light or fat-free.

The possibilities may seem endless for dairy manufacturers looking to use various fruits, but “the top 10 flavors still account for 25 percent of yogurt flavors, with strawberry and blueberry still leading the way,” says Ed McIntosh, marketing manager for supplier Flavorchem, Downers Grove, Ill.

In fact, data from Mintel Group shows the top-selling spoonable yogurt flavors for the U.S. are strawberry (5.79 percent) and blueberry (4.04 percent), followed by vanilla, peach, plain, raspberry, honey, banana and strawberry, black cherry, berry, pineapple, cherry, key lime, lemon and banana -- in that order.

Berry fruit flavors have been leading the pack for three years, McIntosh notes. Indeed, they currently make up 13.54 percent of sales, Mintel reports.

When it comes to flavor preference, consumer perception plays a role.

“Health interests are directly influential in the flavor popularity of yogurts,” says Kaitlin Guest, research and development chef for Gold Coast Ingredients, Commerce, Calif. “Perceived health benefits of certain flavors such as pomegranate or acai berry vs. chocolate or caramel flavor drive the flavor trends of yogurt.”

Pom and circumstance

Pomegranate certainly has enjoyed success as a yogurt flavor, both by itself and in more complex combinations such as pomegranate raspberry acai. “Since the natural flavor of the pomegranate is both a little bit sweet and a little bit tart, it features well in these products," notes Kyle Redfield, director of industrial sales for Los-Angeles-based POM Wonderful.

Redfield calls it an “unexpected” profile. “We continue to see category leaders launching successful new Greek-style yogurts featuring pomegranate alone or in combination with other fruits." He notes pomegranate pairs well with other domestic “superfruits,” such as cherry or blueberry, as well as tropical flavors such as pineapple, coconut and mango.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of tropical flavors that are being requested for yogurt,” adds Guest. “Instead of the typical berry flavors that have been most common for yogurt, [we see] many more requests for flavors such as coconut, guava, passion fruit and, most popularly, mango."

While fruit flavors, including exotic combinations, remain category leaders, Guest also cites interest in sweet dessert-type flavors such as caramel and chocolate. It’s not unusual that dessert trends impact an at-market category. Yogurt is not immune to the power of this point of influence.

“Many dessert flavors follow what is popular in restaurants and packaged items,” McIntosh says. Red Velvet Cake, Boston Cream Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake, Cherry Cheesecake, Apple Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, Cherry Cobbler, Blueberry Pie, Cinnamon Roll, Chocolate Mousse, Berry Torte, Lemon Meringue and Key Lime Pie are among the flavors offered by leading brands.

Yet another trend counteracts yogurt’s smooth texture with a touch of crunch.

“Mix-ins for yogurt are becoming increasingly popular, with the addition of whole grains and nuts, such as chia seeds, flax seeds and pistachios, being driven by health interests and benefits,” Guest says. “There is also a smaller portion of mix-ins being seen in the market that are geared toward making the yogurt a healthy, yet indulgent dessert alternative – e.g., raspberry Greek yogurt with chocolate flakes or black cherry with chocolate chunks.”

Chobani’s Bite line was designed to be a dessert or snack rather than a breakfast. The line features Caramel with Pineapple Chunks, Coffee with Dark Chocolate Chips, Fig with Orange Zest, Honey Ginger, Mint with Dark Chocolate Chips and Raspberry with Dark Chocolate Chips.

Audience Expansion

As consumer tastes are evolving, so is the typical yogurt shopper.

"In the U.S., we are concentrating on the Hispanic market," says Phil Sprovieri, Flavorchem's vice president of sales and marketing. "When you are in Guadalajara, Mexico, you see vendors along the side of the road with large jars containing horchata, tamarindo (tamarind), and limosa (lime) beverages. We offer those flavors for yogurt and dairy products, and we just added guava, mango, pina colada, and chocolate with cinnamon to our Hispanic line of flavors.”

Gender is another audience that’s changing at market. While yogurt manufacturers typically attract women, men are a growing target.

“With the success and popularity of Greek-style yogurt being driven in part by the higher protein content of the yogurt, we anticipate seeing yogurt manufacturers beginning to market yogurt specifically for men in part by introducing even higher protein-containing yogurt,” Guest asserts.

This begs the question: How will yogurt flavors evolve to appeal to men? That remains to be seen. For now, sales of mostly fruit-laden yogurt remain on the up and up.

“U.S. retail sales of yogurt have more than five years of consecutive growth [according to Mintel] and will reach almost $7.4 billion in sales by year's end [2013],” says McIntosh, who predicts unique flavor combinations and ethnic flavors will be a driving force for the category’s continued growth—compounded by consumer demand for healthier snacks, of course.

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